Archives for December 2003

Are enterprises ready for social networking? Are social networking apps ready for the enterprise?

In the latest issue of eWeek, Matt Hicks asks two critical questions:
Are enterprises ready for social networking?
Are social networking vendors ready for the enterprise?

This is noteworthy because it’s the first really in-depth look that a major publication has taken at business-focused social networking applications like Spoke, Visible Path, and Zero Degrees, which are focused on the enterprise market. In particular, the article gives some insight into the product strategies of these companies. They also take a look at what enterprise customers want from social networking applications and the experience of some of the early adopters.

The top priority, of course, is ROI. As with any new technology, the mainstream is waiting to see demonstrated return on investment from the early adopters. The big pay-off is expected in the sales and business development groups, who are already heavy users of sales force automation systems. Collaborative technologies consultant Stowe Boyd, interviewed for the article, had this to say:

“There’s no place more evident than in sales that who you know is more important than what you know.”

One of the most interesting points I found raised was that the early adopters are feeling perfectly comfortable with the rejected referral requests, too:

“Almost all the business-focused networks also try to emulate real-life etiquette by requiring a user to go through their first-degree connection in order to gain a connection with more distant contacts. Spoke and Visible Path, for example, even shield the intermediary’s information, allowing that person to anonymously decline a request to make a connection without having to worry about damaging a relationship.

Tucker said that his direct connections have declined on a few occasions to pass through his requests to connect with someone, and he has opted against granting requests from users wanting to connect with him. In both cases, there were no hard feelings. The feedback from the denials often is as valuable as the potential connections, he said.”

It’s great to see this kind of coverage finally.

Online Business Networking Blog named Feedster's Feed of the Day!

Feedster Feed of the DayWell, we’re certainly pleased about it, if more than a little surprised! After being live just three days (for those of you new here, the older posts are our newsletter articles converted to the blog format), the Online Business Networking Blog has been named Feedster’s Feed of the Day for today.

Thanks to all our new readers for your part in helping us get there.

Mainstream media coverage: Seattle Times says social networking beginning to take shape on the Web

Kudos to the Seattle Times’ Paul Andrews for his piece, Social networking beginning to take shape on the Web. While much of the article is just a basic run-down of the well-known social networking sites, Andrews gets three high marks from me for:

  1. Having the guts to say, “Despite its founder’s protests, though, Friendster retains the feel of friends “setting up” friends online. In some ways, Friendster is already so last year.”
  2. Being the first mainstream media person to tell me about something I actually didn’t already know about, the XHTML Friends Network (XFN), an open XHTML markup standard for denoting the relationships between people in their blogrolls or other HTML friend/buddy lists. More on it later.
  3. Being an optimist about it, rather than jumping onto the current trend of being skeptical about the revenue models (or lack thereof). No, by contrast, Andrews says, “I have no doubt commercialization opportunities will present themselves. Build a new community, and a marketplace is never far behind. “

How to become an A-list blogger

Success breeds success, and it is highly likely that so long as they keep doing what they’re doing, the current A-list bloggers will continue to be at the top of the list. So, what’s a new blogger to do? Technorati currently tracks about 1.5 million blogs. What’s going to happen when they hit ten times that? How are you going to compete for attention?

First and foremost, as with any market, you first have to define your target, your niche. What do you have to say? And what’s your unique angle on it? Figure this out before you start, because the blogosphere doesn’t need any more navel-gazers. As John Hawkins put it in The Three Cardinal Sins of Blogging:

You have got to be distinctive enough so that readers can pick you out of the herd. If there are 50 other blogs out there talking about the same things you’re talking about and saying roughly the same things — well to put it bluntly, why should a reader bother with reading your blog?

But beyond that, the key to remember is that blogging is networking, and the same basic techniques that help one build a powerful personal network are the same ones that will help you build a large and loyal blog readership, and a network with your fellow bloggers. Take a look at what Earl Mardle has to say about how to become an A-list blogger:

Writing and Posting is vital, otherwise why would anyone visit? But equally vital is contributing to other people’s stuff.

Visit their sites and contribute comments; make sure to include a link back to your blog. Then repost the comments on your own blog as a post in their own right, maybe elaborate a bit.

Link to the source of the discussion, use trackback where possible.

Check your referrer logs and find out where people are coming from and what might have prompted the link. See what they checked on your site, follow up and see what they are saying on their site. Contribute again.

Look at your blogroll. How often do you use your favourite people as a springboard to some thinking and posting of your own? Make sure you credit and trackback.

Think about what you want from your blog.
Why are you doing this?
Who do you want to attract?
What kind of an impression do you want to make on them?
How do you engage that objective in what you post?

The language is a bit different, but the message is the same, isn’t it?

And in case you’re wondering it it works, the two full days since we launched this blog have both been in our top five highest-traffic days ever, and more than double our monthly average for the month of December! Thanks for reading, and watch for more upcoming tips on how to put this technology to good use in your business.

I am the Blogosphere

what kind of social software are you?Do different types of social software have a “personality”? Chris Heathcote of London Underground says yes, and has put together a quiz to help you answer the question, What kind of social software are you?

Granted, it’s just for grins, but I still thought it was pretty insightful when the result was “You are the Blogosphere, and you just want to be linked.”

Blogging draws attention

Many new bloggers don’t realize the impact that back-end technologies like Technorati and Trackback have on the nature of blog communication. While on the service, they appear to be a one-way communication medium—just a simpler way to do web publishing—they are, in reality, a conversation.

Joi Ito points out that many people are surprised to find out that what they think of as a semi-private journal to share with a few of their friends may actually be creating attention they don’t want. As he says

One of the things that some of us forget is that it’s not all about attention. Most people want a little more attention than they get, but they usually want it from the right people and only when they feel like it.

So, while blogging is a tremendous tool for increasing your web visibility, keep in mind that it’s completely public. To update an old saying, “Don’t post anything in your blog you wouldn’t want on the cover of the New York Times.”

Tech Skeptic's 2004 forecast skewers social networking sites Friendster and Plaxo

There’s nothing like a little humor to burst an overly-hyped bubble. So check out Tech Skeptic’s Fearless Forecast for 2004, in which he skewers, among other things, Friendster:

Friendster, the leader of the social networking phenomenon, becomes withdrawn, angry, defensive, moody, and erratic, leading sites one degree away from Friendster—Tribe.Net, LinkedIn, Craigslist—to stage an intervention. Friendster couldn’t deal with its surging fame and became addicted to prescription painkillers it got from Rush Limbaugh when he signed up. And he had said that he was “just here to help.” That enabling behavior meant Friendster never had to confront that it was never really interested in making new friends as it says on its profile. Its true desire had been to find “activity partners,” if by activity you mean finding gullible young hipster wannabes to sign up for a thinly disguised dating service in the hopes of making money off of them later.

and Plaxo and GoodContacts:

Contact-freshening services Plaxo and GoodContacts experience explosive growth as folks realize that signing up is the only way to stop those annoying e-mails from people they cannot remember who are asking them to update their contact info. Once other tech companies see their success, this particular brand of “annoyance abeyance marketing” sweeps the Internet and soon Amazon and Google and all the rest are devising ways for us to pay them to stop bothering us.

Too funny!

Inc.com says social networking sites "could fundamentally change the way people network"

In Internet Icebreakers, Inc.com’s Michael Fitzgerald takes an optimistic look at business networking technologies, claiming that “the sites could fundamentally change the way people network”. Never mind that I said this four months ago, I’m happy to see more mainstream coverage of this topic.

The most interesting thing in this story is that his real-world examples include a software company, a VC firm, and a local financial services office, not just the freelance web/graphic designers and network marketers who have been a disproportionately large share of the early adopters. Having used online networking myself for significant business development efforts at my last firm, including initiating a multi-million-dollar corporate merger on a Yahoo Group conversation, I know that it’s only a matter of time before it’s not even thought of as a separate practice—it will simply be an integral part of sales, marketing, and business development.

Red Herring touts the impending arrival of the 800-lb. gorillas in the social networking space

According to Red Herring, a pack of similar companies fight for attention, while competition from the big dogs looms.

I agree… AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, et al., will not stand idly by while the social networking startups eat away at the time users spend on the big boys’ groups and communities. However, I think this trend isn’t something that anyone — users or social networking startup executives — needs to be worried about.

In the case of full-fledged networking communities like Ryze and Ecademy, the technology may not be of much interest to the big players, but the loyal, revenue-generating member bases of tens or hundreds of thousands of users will be.

For companies with enterprise-focused, patented software, like Spoke, hopefully they’ve realized all along that ultimately, they’re just a piece of a much larger infrastructure, and not destined to be a stand-alone application forever. If they can successfully demonstrate a viable revenue model on top of their proprietary intellectual property, they’ll be prime acquisition targets, probably by the end of 2004.

But what does this all mean to the user—the networking practitioner? Right now, not much at all. The funding many of these companies have received is a good indication of continued viability for the foreseeable future. There’s a great window of opportunity right now to get in as an early adopter and build your social capital. And when the 800-lb. gorillas do finally enter the game, you really have nothing to lose. Odds are very good that these sites will get acquired, not simply disappear. And even if they did disappear, keep in mind that your investment is really in the people you connect with, not the system you use to do so.

Identity Management Server designed for mobile SMS potentially solves big online social networking problem

In light of a recent conversation on Ryze about social networking and interoperability, which all started with Sean McCullough’s excellent post laying out his ideas for social networking interoperability requirements, I was pretty fascinated to read this morning about Ayala Alternative Organizational Consulting’s plans for building an Identity Management Server as part of the European AURORA project for next-generation multimodal-multimedia personal messaging services.

While designed primarily to solve multi-device message-delivery problems, this project could also solve many of the interoperability issues Sean and others raised in that conversation. From Philippe Scheimann, head of Ayala:

Among the challenges our technology solves in the area of Identity Management are anonymity, managing fragmented/multiple identities, compounded identities, managing linking or sharing of existing identities, identity theft and other security issues including identity fabrication and reputation. […] The IMS will provide to the connected world a digital identity system that best reflects the wealth of real life interactions and human nature.

There are, of course, some serious privacy concerns that this raises, but the benefits for those people who want to maintain multiple points of presence for messaging and networking make it well worth the effort.